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BOOK REVIEW: In Siberia

In Siberia, 1999, Colin Thubron.

HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York NY 10022</b>

Well the Empire of the Soviets may have gone away, but Siberia is still very

much alive and well.

Phoo.

Poor choice of words there. Nothing, it would appear, is particularly alive or

well across the vast tract of hell that calls itself Siberia.

Sitting here in a cozy room with my butt firmly planted in a comfortable chair,

it’s really difficult to even IMAGINE Siberia. I have far less trouble imagining

places like Antarctica, or even the Moon. There’s just SOMETHING about Siberia

that will not allow my tiny little brain to get a proper handle on the place.

Colin has done a masterful job, traveling across Siberia from east to west and

north to south. Or at least some of it. The place is just too big for one person

to cover in a lifetime. Colin did the best he could, though. From the Ural

Mountains to the Sea of Okhotsk. From Vorkuta to Kyzyl. And a lot of other

places too.

Anybody who’s read The Gulag Archipelago will be chillingly familiar with such

fatal place names as Norilsk, The Kolyma, Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk, and a host

of other god-forsaken places so far off the beaten trail that back in the bad

old days they didn’t even have to fence the sonofabitches off. Escaped

prisoner-slaves literally had NOWHERE to go. Thousands of miles of hellishly

frozen wasteland in all directions. Exactly zero by way of transportation

infrastructure. If you’re going, you’re going on foot. Forget it.

Nowadays, the prison camps are gone for the most part, and people are out there

trying to scratch a living from a ferociously unpleasant land. I think that

might be part of the reason I have such a difficult time understanding the

place. When people go to Antarctica or the Moon, they’re fully equipped with the

latest and greatest gear to allow them to survive and execute whatever job

they may have in such a far off and lethal place. In Siberia, they pretty much

don’t have diddly. And yet they somehow get by. Unfortunately, that’s about it.

Just getting by. Barely, I might add.

Three huge rivers, each of them the size of the Mississippi, flowing north and

emptying into a barren coastline on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

Gigantic petrochemical complexes, spewing unimaginable pollution, surrounded by

cities with a million inhabitants, utterly and completely isolated in a stark

flat landscape covered with dirty snow.

An impossibly gigantic lake, harboring one-fifth of all the liquid fresh water

on the planet, with seals swimming in it.

Ancient pensioners with no family left, surviving yet another winter in a wooden

shack with nothing more than an oven to keep the place warm.

Slave labor camps, abandoned in place, with the wind whistling through empty

barracks and across mass graves of unknown people who died in the middle of

nowhere, for nothing.

This is an excellent book and I strongly recommend you read it.

Siberia.

I’ve always wanted to go there.

In July.


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